Meal Ordeals

by Dr. Ray Guarendi

Meal ordeals—they rank in the big three of everyday pre-school problems, right up there with bedtime bad times and temper tempests. Meal ordeals may be the easiest to resolve, though, as nature is on parents' side. Even the most finicky food-refusers eventually will eat because their bodies tell them to.

1. Set a time when the table will be cleared and the meal will officially be over. Whatever is still edible on Candy's plate, that is, whatever is not a greenish-yellow, unrecognizable semi-liquid glue, can be covered with tin foil and placed in the refrigerator. This is her meal to eat if or when she eventually gets hungry.

The decision whether to reheat the meal or not is certainly yours, but for most parents the choice to reserve warm or cold food usually hinges on the temperature of their mood at the time of hearing, "Mom, I'm so hungry my belly is bubbling."

2. While you're occupied with your own food, try to ignore the fact that Grace is not occupied with hers. Resist cajoling ("Mmmm, these carrots taste just like chocolate ice cream"), threats ("Sugar, if you don't at least try your beans, you'll never see another Popsicle in this house"), or bribes ("If you eat two bites of bread, you can leave the table until next Saturday").

It may initially agitate your stomach to stifle the urge to prod your preschooler, but it will help if you fantasize that your daughter is actually eating. Imagine that Grace is grate-fully relishing the meal you prepared. You may succeed in tricking your stomach into settling down.

One mom told me she spoke to her son as though he were eating. "Aren't those peppers good? I like them, too!" He must have thought she had slipped a bean, because he actually started eating. I think he felt sorry for her.

3. Absolutely no dessert or snacks (save only highly nutritious ones—broccoli, spinach, tufuti, and the like) will be available later in the meal or evening. The temptation is high to allow Honey a vitamin-fortified, fudge-covered, sugar wafer bar just to get "something" into her, but over time she may learn to shun your nutritious offerings in anticipation of more tasty treats later, especially if she knows you get panicky as her hunger strike stretches into five hours.